We need more of this

Some congressional Democrats have introduced a bill to shift some of the spending for a new weapons system to other uses that actually help people.

Congressional Democrats are introducing legislation to transfer $1bn in funding from a controversial new intercontinental ballistic missile to the development of a universal Covid vaccine.

The Investing in Cures Before Missiles (ICBM) Act, introduced in the House and Senate on Friday, would stop funding on the proposed new missile, known as the ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) which is projected to cost a total of $264bn over its projected lifespan, and discontinue spending on a linked warhead modification program.

Instead, the life of the existing US intercontinental ballistic missile, the Minuteman III, would be extended until 2050, and an independent study commissioned on how best to do that.
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‘Milkshake Duck’ and the perils of internet fame

I had not heard of the term ‘milkshake duck’ until yesterday. This is not surprising since I am always way behind the trends in the fast-moving world of social media. If I blog about some social media phenomenon, you can be pretty sure that it is already a few years old and may even have passed into oblivion, replaced by something that I have not heard about as yet.

The term ‘milkshake duck’ apparently originated in 2016 with this tweet.

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How can they be so dense?

The NCAA, the body that governs US athletics at the college level, has long had an unsavory reputation of enabling the exploitation of students so that everyone profits handsomely from certain college sports except for the athletes themselves. You would think that such a big operation would have at least the minimum awareness of public relations. So it is hard to explain how they could not have known that the way they treated the women’s teams in the college basketball tournament compared to the way they treated men would undoubtedly come to light and show how much they devalue women’s sports.

Samantha Bee described what happened.

What happened when progressives won Democratic party elections in Nevada

Akela Lacy and Ryan Grim write about how the Democratic party establishment in Nevada reacted after a slate of progressives won every post in the state party leadership races. The outgoing party establishment, rather than conceding gracefully, reacted in a very Trumpian manner.

NOT LONG AFTER Judith Whitmer won her election on Saturday to become chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, she got an email from the party’s executive director, Alana Mounce. The message from Mounce began with a note of congratulations, before getting to her main point.

She was quitting. So was every other employee. And so were all the consultants. And the staff would be taking severance checks with them, thank you very much.
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Lord of the Flies was wrong about human nature

Most people have read this famous 1954 book by William Golding or have seen at least one of the 1963, 1973, or 1990 films based on it or have read about it. It is widely used as a text in US high schools. It tells a chilling story about how a group of British schoolboys marooned on a uninhabited island slowly degenerate into monsters, to the extent of torturing and killing. It is of course fiction but has been taken as a cautionary tale about the darkness of human nature and what we can become without the constraints of society, that often leads to an authoritarian view of what society needs to do to keep these terrible human impulses in check.

But it appears that what that story reveals is not about human nature but of Golding’s view of human nature.
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The plastic recycling scam

Plastic pollution is a global menace. In. his latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver exposes how the plastics industry has managed to pull off one of the biggest scams on the public by persuading us that tackling plastic pollution is our responsibility and urging us to ever greater recycling efforts while making false promises about their own efforts to reduce plastic contamination. In one episode of his excellent series Adam Ruins Everything, host Adam Conover made some similar points.

One of their triumphs was to get legislatures to force manufacturers to put those triangles on almost all plastic items, suggesting that they can all be recycled when in fact most of them can’t. Only those with the numbers 1 and 2 have a reasonable shot at being recycled. Worse, by having the public think that all of them can be recycled, it contaminates the plastic pool making it harder to even recycle the plastic that can be. What then happens is that the ‘recycled’ plastic from the US ends up in landfills all over the world.

The best thing we can do is to dispose of all plastics with numbers 3 and higher in the trash and not in the recycling bins, enact legislation that creates strong disincentives for single use plastics by manufacturers, and put the burden for reducing plastic pollution where it really belongs, on the manufacturers and not the public. Some countries are doing just that.

Violence against women

Just one day after the murder of eight people that included seven women, six of them Asian, the House of Representatives voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act. When it was first passed in 1994, it was so uncontroversial that it passed the House of Representative by a voice vote and in the Senate by a margin of 95-4. But that was at a time when the Republican party still had some level of decency. This time, what was shocking was that while all Democrats in the House voted in favor of it, only 29 Republicans did so, giving a total in favor of 244 while 172 Republicans voted against it. Senate Republican are expected to try and block it altogether. McConnell refused to bring up the reauthorization in 2019 which is why it has lapsed.
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Cold and colds

Growing up in Sri Lanka, it was an article of faith with my mother (and the mothers of many of my friends) that after a shower, we should not go outside while our hair was still wet because that increased the risk of us catching a cold or getting a chill. If we happened to get caught in the rain, we were told to quickly dry ourselves thoroughly so that we did not catch a cold. But Sri Lanka is a tropical country where what is considered ‘cold’ would be like a balmy summer day in the US. Furthermore houses have very open architecture with open windows and doors so that air is freely circulating and hence there is little difference between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ except that inside one had a roof over one’s head. Hence these restrictions made no sense. But given the power of confirmation bias, it was always easy to find such a cause to blame whenever one caught a cold.
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The problem of cheating in online tournaments

During the pandemic, there has been an explosion of people playing games online. While that has been enjoyable for friendly games, problems can arise when it comes to serious tournaments that can influence the rankings that players have.

In the case of chess, the website chess.com is widely used. The main problem with cheating in chess arises because there are now very powerful chess engines that can rapidly analyze situations and suggest the best move. These engines are used by players to practice their game and by analysts at tournaments who report on games. In face-to-face contests, the use of such engines is not allowed while play is going on but when people are online, it becomes hard to monitor whether someone is having an engine running simultaneously to guide them. The only way to detect such cheating is statistical, to see if the quality of the moves made by a player lie outside the range that one might expect of someone with their ranking.
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Sidney Powell now says that she was just kidding all along

Remember Sidney Powell, the member of Trump’s crack (or should I say cracked) legal team that accused Dominion Voting Systems of orchestrating a massive fraud that deprived Trump of. his election win? Dominion sued her for defamation and was asking for $1.3 billion in damages. Well, she has now come up with a defense that no one in their right mind could have thought that she was serious, despite her going on TV, meeting in the White House with Trump, and giving press conferences multiple times making those allegations.
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